Image in Disguise


Qiao ying (Image in disguise) is a Qing-dynasty lyric drama set to music. The playwright was Wu Zao, courtesy name Pingxiang, style name Yushenzi, a native of Renhe (present-day Hangzhou, Zhejiang). She was born in the fourth year (1799) of the Jiaqing reign and died in the first year (1862) of the Tongzhi reign. A famous poet and writer of ci lyrics, Wu Zao was from a well-to-do merchant family. She was intelligent, sharp-minded, and excelled in poetry, painting, and music. Her lyrics were written in a bold and unconstrained style. Wu Zao and the early Qing-dynasty ci poet Nalan Xingde (1655‒85) are known as the two best song-lyric writers of the Qing dynasty. Married to a man named Huang, a merchant from the same town, and much loved by her husband, Wu Zao nevertheless felt frustrated, unfulfilled, and that her talents were not recognized. Later in her life she converted to Buddhism. In addition to this poetic drama, her other works, such as Hua lian shu wu shi (Poetry of the flower curtain studio), Hua lian ci (Flower curtain lyrics), and Xiang nan xue bei ci (Lyrics from the fragrant south and the snowy north), were also widely known. This work is included in Qing ren za ju er ji (The second volume of Zaju plays of Qing authors), listed under the title Yin jiu du sao tu (Drinking wine while reading “Li sao” [Encountering sorrow]). “Li sao” is a poem written by the Warring States-period poet Qu Yuan. This is a one-act play with only one character. It depicts the female protagonist Xie Xucai, who, though deeply focused on her books, wished to be “playing swords in a yellow robe.” However, because of her gender and being confined to her boudoir, she lamented being “an ailing crane in a closed bird cage” and regretted that she could not freely put her ambitions and talents to good use as men did. One day she went to her study and painted a self-portrait in male attire. Facing the painting she drank wine while reading “Li sao” by Qu Yuan, whose sorrow she compared to her own. Qiao ying is in fact the reflection of the author. The cross-dressing in the portrait symbolizes crossing the social and cultural gender boundaries, thus temporarily freeing her from social and cultural shackles to speak her mind. The drama was quickly put to music in Wuzhong and was widely performed on the both sides of the Yangtze River, which reflected the popularity of the play at the time. This edition is an old handwritten copy. The title on the cover reads Qiao ying, a poetic drama by Wu Pingxiang of Quantang (Hangzhou). It was treasured by Zhang Junheng and his son Zhang Naixiong, two late-19th and early 20th-century book collectors. At the end of the book are postscripts by Ge Qingzeng and Wu Zaigong as well as numerous inscriptions and poetic appreciations by friends. At the very end is a brief biography of Jin Wei, of Shengtan (circa 1608‒61), a writer and critic.

Last updated: October 30, 2017